Cardinal Spellman coach Jane Morris lost in her first attempt at career win No. 700 in a weekend defeat to Moore Catholic, but it allowed for a even better atmosphere when she hit the milestone.
Her home gym was filled with colleagues, family, friends and former players as the Pilots girls’ basketball coach reached the mark with a 61-52 win over rival Preston on Jan. 11. The 60-year-old Morris, who was also a star player at Spellman, has been coaching at the school for 40 years. She is 700-214 and one of New York State’s all-time winningest coaches.
Her players arraigned for red and white streamers to be thrown from the bleachers. Morris was presented with flowers and a 700 sign. Senior guard Theresa Tartarone’s father brought a cake that the players preceded in smearing all over her face. Morris joked that it was because they missed her with the water in the Gatorade cooler.
“Everyone was just having a really good time,” she said. “That was the best part of it really. It really was fun.”
She said the only reason why she started keeping track of her wins was because she was asked when Spellman went to the New York State Federation Tournament for the first time. Morris, a member of the GCHSAA Hall of Fame, kept every scorebook since she started and had to go through each to get the number. She has won three CHSAA state titles and a Federation crown in 1999.
Morris began coaching at a time when women’s basketball was moving out of its infancy. They still played six on six and with different rules from the guys until her junior year of high school. She went on to play at Lehman College and reach the NCAA tournament.
Morris coached the Spellman junior varsity before practices and games during her freshman and sophomore seasons at Lehman after graduating high school in 1961. She took over the varsity the following year. She was coaching girls just three years younger that her, some of whom she was a friend with. Morris told them right away they had to separate that when she was their coach. They appreciated her knowledge of the game and how much she cared for them.
“No [coach] even comes close to her,” said Lisa Toscano, a member of her first varsity team. “That’s why I am back now. If you played for Jane, you played for the best.”
Morris almost didn’t keep the job. She took the test for the police department after graduating Lehman. The recession a the time kept the NYPD from hiring and Morris was offered a job teaching physical education at Spellman a year later. When the police department finally called she had no designs on leaving.
“I was there very firmly entrenched and happy with what I was doing,” Morris said. “I didn’t go.”
She also was one of the driving forces being the formation of the CHSAA’s girls’ league in the early 1980. At the times teams just played their local regular season schedule. Morris, who is also a Spellman athletic director, has watched the game evolved more since then and has adapted to it. Her sideline demeanor however remains the same.
“She doesn’t get upset too much,” said Gail Sullivan, who played on Morris’ first squad.
Morris always wanted to do whatever she could to help her players blossom.
“She will let you play your game, which is different from other coaches,” said senior forward Maria Backman, who is headed to Michigan. “She doesn’t want to mold you for the better meant of a program, she is more into letting you find yourself.”
Her affection for her kids is why seeing the emotions pour out of her following the 700th win was something that gave her player great joy. Morris is usually even keeled, yelling when needed, but never losing her composer.
“She doesn’t show much emotion,” Backman said. “Seeing her have a smile from ear to ear was pretty cool.”